Waste Framework Directive

Policy Position

The EU Waste Framework Directive is the primary European legislation for the management of waste. Directive 2008/98/EC re-enacts, revises or repeals three predecessor Directives including the previous Waste Framework Directive (2006/12/EC) and the Hazardous Waste Directive(91/698/EEC as amended); it came in to force on 12 December 2008.

The revised Directive has been transposed into law in England and Wales through the Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2011 and ancillary legislation in Wales, which both came into force from 29 March 2011. Some provisions do not come into force until end of 2013 or beginning of 2015. Scotland and Northern Ireland have separate regulations to transpose the requirements of the revised Waste Framework Directive.

The revised Waste Framework Directive (rWFD) defines key concepts such as waste, recovery and disposal and puts in place the essential requirements for the management of waste, including an obligation for those carrying out waste management operations to have a permit or to be registered. In addition there is an obligation for Member States to draw up waste management plans.

The rWFD establishes key principles such as an obligation to handle waste in a way that does not have a negative impact on the environment or human health, an encouragement to apply the waste hierarchy and, in accordance with the polluter-pays principle, a requirement that the costs of disposing of waste must be borne by the holder of waste, by previous holders or by the producers of the product from which the waste came.

The revised WFD also provides that the European Commission may introduce a range of measures by means of commitology procedure (e.g. end-of-waste criteria for specified waste streams and compliance rules for the household waste recycling target in Art 11(2)(a). These provisions have now been provided in the form of Council Regulation or Commission Decision.


Waste Hierarchy

The revised Directive places a duty of waste producers to apply the hierarchy as a priority order. This provision took effect from September 2011.

Businesses are required to confirm that they have applied the waste hierarchy when transferring waste and include a declaration on their waste transfer note stating that the hierarchy has been taken into account. Justified departures will be allowed based on life cycle thinking and taking into account for example technical and economic constraints. During the consultation FDF emphasised the importance of business retaining some flexibility for it manages its waste and therefore supported these caveats. Defra provides guidance on applying the waste hierarchy.

Waste prevention programme

Under the revised Directive the UK is required to develop a Waste Prevention Programme by the end of 2013. Defra has responsibility for delivering this programme for England. The devolved administrations will be developing their own programmes.

As far as Defra is concerned FDF is currently engaging with the Department on stakeholder consultations and workshops. Defra’s approach is to review waste arisings across the economy by sector and by material looking at tonnage/carbon/hazardousness and then identify hot-spots for further investigation. This is expected to assist development of a Waste Prevention Programme by 12 December 2013.

Separate collection

The Government plans to amend the Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2011 with regard to its interpretation of separate collection under the WFD following legal advice it has received on the back of a judicial review. This relates to the duty placed on local authorities and waste management companies. A ‘short’ consultation was carried out and amended regulations have been laid before both Parliaments and will come into force on 1 October 2012.

At the heart of the issue is the UK’s interpretation that separate collection as including comingled collection which the Government now accepts was incorrect. In its response to the consultation FDF supported Defra's overall approach to the transposition of this aspect of the revised Waste Framework Directive in that the promotion of high quality recycling as an outcome should be the primary objective.

Although this change is likely to mean that in theory any decision not to collect materials separately will need to be justified on technical, environmental and economic grounds it is likely to make very little difference in practice. The legal challenge has also prompted Defra to support developing the Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) Code of Practice according to mandatory approach as well as to work on an action plan on quality.


Importantly for food and drink manufacturers the rWFD excludes some categories of waste from waste controls, notably animal by-products. Businesses no longer need an environmental permit or exemption from the Environment Agency for wastes covered by the Animal By-Product Regulation.

End of Waste Criteria

Council Regulation No 333/2011 laying down the criteria when ferrous and aluminium scrap metals cease to be waste under the Directive entered into force in April 2011 and directly applied in all Member States from 9 October 2011. Although intended to be a deregulatory measure the Regulation has particular significance for the UK in terms of the Packaging Regulations because it may change the point at which a PRN/PERN can be issued.

Defra consulted on this issue in 2011. FDF and many others in the packaging chain called for the UK to maintain the point at which Packaging Recovery Notes (PRNs) can be issued in the waste chain. The Government was not persuaded of the need to do this, which it said would effectively de-couple the point of issue from the point of end of waste/recovery and therefore undermine the intention of the rWFD and End of Waste Regulation. Therefore Defra proceeded with the implementation of the EWC Regulation as described in its consultation document, supported by updated guidance for reprocessors by the Environment Agencies. However a lack of certification bodies accredited to certify the quality management system required by the end of waste regulations has so far prevented any organisations from seeking PRN/PERN accreditation from the EA.

Further EC End of Waste regulations covering other materials are expected during the next couple of years. Criteria for paper and glass are likely to be modelled on metals.


The Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2011 set a target that, by 2020, at least 50% by weight of waste from households is prepared for re-use or recycled. The Commission Decision on target compliance rules makes clear that the anaerobic digestion and composting of waste can be counted towards the target.


Defra have published guidance for businesses on the legal definition of waste. In most cases the decision is straightforward, but in some the decision is more difficult (e.g. where the substance or object has a value or a potential use or where the decision is about whether waste has been fully recovered or recycled and has therefore ceased to be waste). The legal definition of waste in the Defra guidance is fully aligned with the European Commission’s guidance on the WFD


The Commission is currently reviewing the implementation of the Waste Framework Directive and will report by end of 2014, including a review of its municipal waste recovery and recycling targets. . This review will include an examination of the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive and the other “product directives” to see if they are still ‘fit for purpose’ .

Last reviewed: 25 Oct 2012